Outta the country and into more country
Past Dyesburg into Ripley
Where the ghost of childhood haunts me
“What’s goin on Tennessee? And welcome back to 101.1 FM J.C Radio, your direct connection to the One and Only, The Man Above, the Man in Black! Now wasn’t he on the path?! That’s right yall, Johnny Cash! You’re in the Ring of Fire! I’m your host Joseph Arimathea! Stay tuned we’ll be taking questions next.”
Now that was weird, Jack thought. In a growing day of increasingly strange occurrences Jack had not expected to find this one the hardest to believe, not by far…
Well you know how it goes with relatives; they’re family just as long as they stay OUT of your life. Very out thank you very much, as out possibly as that cliff on the far side of the world where here there be dragons, or accessorily your great aunt Jill, who hasn’t spit fire since you were born but definitely contains enough charcoal in her eyeballs to melt your nuts with her endless renditions of self righteous, good God fearing Christian rants on sinz and sinnaz.
Just because the old dragon can’t spit flames out her nostrils, and she probably could if she took the care to pluck them, doesn’t mean she ain’t a dangerous, mean, ol’bitch to be around on her better days. Who would have ever thought that “I’ll wash your blasphemous mouth out with soap!” was a thing to be taken literally anyway?
Yup, relatives, family. Your “extended” family. Most people have a hard enough time getting on with their ol’folks, and they’re the ones who fucked you into life, birthed you, burped you, bathed you, beat you into school, bailed you out of jail, and generally kept you fed, fat and fucked up. Who the hell wants to deal with more than that?! So you have a hard enough time dealing with your ‘rents, whom you owe some measure of respect for at least some of the aforementioned if you were lucky, but then you gotta listen to some dumb ol’farts who been feedin you baby noises and nasty food every time you were unlucky enough to visit them, gave you some shitty toys for Christmas when you could have been cozy in the city watching the Sesame Street Christmas Special instead of being stuck somewhere between Richmond and Tulsa singing your 600th psalm and you were only six, and had already figured out in spite of many claims to the contrary that No Christmas was Not about Jesus, Yes it Is about toys, cake and candy, and that somewhere on the map there definitely be dragons, and if not your great aunt Jill, whose progeny was stuck somewhere in the gray areas between inbreeding and plain stupid.
Now maybe if they could spit fire, fly, inspire terror in the hearts of the wicked or any combination of the three, there would be some reason to visit them, but lacking that why the fuck come all the way out there, when they could just as easily (and much more comfortably) make it up here, where big giant lights and Christmas Carols were all you needed to feel festive and loving. Just because I sing the damn song doesn’t mean I actually want to be roasting chestnuts on an open fire, unless its propane based, on my balcony overlooking the Park with the TV on loud enough to NOT miss the Christmas special.
One should seriously give some thought to the meaning of the “extended” in family. If it was Family, it would just be “plain” family. Feel the need to qualify? Gee I wonder why? Given that they have semi parental rights over you, that you must watch your mouth and be-have for them as if they had ever done a damn thing for you. You’re the guest, doesn’t that count for something? You’re the one getting the disbelieving stares from your country cousin’s country friends and the horny winks from their bare footed girl friends so why did you have to shut up for them on top of things?! It’s not “extended” for no reason, you have to “grant” an extension it doesn’t come automatically, and it can just as easily be withdrawn. But: “Jack how dare you?! Apologize immediately to your aunt Jill!” That’s Great Aunt Jill Ma, and we all know you hate the bitch.
Relatives, if only they could stay as far as they could thank you very much…
Far that is, as far as their Will is concerned. You gotta be smart about these kind of things now, and just because Great Aunt Jill was an evil, mean, wicked, slightly senile and definitely buried in wrinkles and folds each of which containing it’s own ecosystem and gravity well, and just because the nasty pain in the ass grumpy ol’ smelly fart was all of them and worse while she was alive doesn’t mean you shouldn’t honor her last wishes. And if she really wanted to give you something you should definitely indulge her last request, because it says so on her tombstone: Here Lays Jill Abernathy, a Kind Mother to her a Children a Loved and Dearly Missed Member of the Community.
Ah Great Aunt Jill, most things find their value in Death, and you were no exception. God Bless you as you roast on the Devil’s Barbeque because that tombstone is BULLSHIT AUNT JILL! BULLSHIT!
Yet the final wishes of the dead, now that, and your bank account, was sacred, and sacred these days meant driving from New York to Memphis in the depth of winter to honor Great Aunt Jill, her long over due departure and your slightly on the rupt side bank account.
“Question number 1, from my good man John from Bethlehem! You’re on the air sir, what can I do you for?”
“Well Hi Joseph, I had um, I had me a question.”
“That’s what we’re here for John!”
“Well my question is this: How many people must I kill to ensure my place by the throne?”
“Well John my man, that’s a question only you yourself can answer. What does your heart tell you?”
“That I got more work to do Joseph!”
“That’s spoken like a true Faithful! Now get out there John and get to business!”
“Question number II from…”
The letter had come from TN in the morning. Usually Jack would have sent anything from Dixie straight to the trash as most of them were either pamphlets from the now deceased Jill and/or letters from his cousins inviting him to yet another Elvis impersonation contest, each and every one of them swearing that: “It’s laike he’s come alaive ag-ieun!” and so on so forth. But this one had the added value of coming from a Lawyer; hard working fellows, slightly on the horny brimstone side of the good and evil divide if one was to be believed, but since he hadn’t set foot in Tennessee in ten years it couldn’t be bad news or some pending litigation. It had to mean that Praise the Lord someone had finally died down there, or that Hallelujah someone had finally died down there leaving him a bundle of cash, property, or something so old and banged up he should be able to get a buck out of at an antiques store, or from some crazy ol’ Elvis paraphernalia collector.
The trick question was: who? There were a bunch of people he hated down there, he thought as he cut through the envelope, but which one it was would influence the likelihood of the mortuary cash prize so he shouldn’t let his wishes go to waste, Jack had to send all his mental energy towards the right corpse…
Crossing the state border into North Carolina Jack was too busy thinking over the little tell tale signs that would have indicated, possibly, that the late and long overdue Great Aunt Jill, had, maybe, large quantities of cash, or hopefully, other valuable property that she might want to bestow upon him in her obviously deteriorating sanity, to notice the sign welcoming him into Michael Jordan’s alma mater state reading THORN ANCORLINA. Nor did he notice how the night seemed to freeze in twilight, and the moon suddenly went from its first crescent to a full blood moon. Nope Jack’s mind was too busy counting the pennies he had once seen in Aunt Jill’s safety pot to notice those.
The human mind is trained to read words as a whole anyway, so even if he had noticed the sign he would probably have read it correctly only turning back realizing what he had seen much later on, but what he should have paid attention too and didn’t, distracted as he was by the ever changing rapport between penny mass and jar size that will undoubtedly affect the porcelain pig industry for a few more centuries was the picture by the state slogan: a small tree, a small, leafless tree, a small leafless tree with someone hanging from its branches.
“…from a sweet sounding young dame named Maria Magdalena from nearby Nazareth. How do you do there sweet Maria?”
“Mighty fine thank you Joseph. It’s always a pleasure to hear you on the waves.”
“And it’s a pleasure to have you for the first time Maria, but I expect you get that a lot.”
“What can I take off your chest young lady?”
“Well Joseph, I have committed adultery with all of my husband’s friends, but I’m unsure if I should get into a threesome with his brother and sister.”
“Hey you know what I say: it’s best kept in the family. Just incidentally we are airing from Gallilea only a ten minute drive from Nazareth at this time of day.”
“Well, I was on the way to get my son from kindergarten, but I guess I could stop by and fuck you for a bit.”
“OOH Wee! That’s how we do it at 101.1 J.C Radio, I’m ready when you are baby! A new question coming right up…”
For Jack life had taken an unexpected turn around Christmas Eve of 1996, and it had all started with a toast to the re-election of a certain William of Clinton gone wrong…
It was a cold night for his cousins, but for Jack it was once again too warm for comfort, too warm for Christmas really, not that he would know come to think about it having never been in the City for Christmas always leaving a few days early and returning a few days late. At least he had always made it back for New Year’s which was really the high point of the holiday season as far as he was concerned since he always got his presents anyway, although he never got to go to Chris Be Yung’s Christmas Pajama Party where little Liz Cohen went every year. Christmas stood for a few things for Jack, the three duly reflected upon earlier, and Liz Cohen in her jammies.
Now that was Christmas, or Hanukkah, whatever, it didn’t fuckin matter because if there ever was one present he had dreamed of unwrapping since he was seven, that was Little Liz Cohen, who turned out over the years into Not So Little Anymore Liz Cohen and progressively into Check Out The Knockers On Her Liz Cohen and finally into I’ll Beat The Shit Outta Samuel Levin Liz Cohen.
In the end Samuel Levin had beaten the shit out of him, but he had caught her eye which eventually led to Drop The Nicknames About My Girl Liz Cohen. But for all his persistent efforts and fantasizing it turns out that even Samuel Levin hadn’t unwrapped the present and that neither would he, or anybody, at least not by the time she left Rudolf Steiner School on the Upper East Side, leading to the public degrading of Rudolf Steiner’s with colorful items such as “Thanks for delivering Rudolf.” “Fuck off Rudolf.”, and the Christmas 1998 Year Book favorite: “Rudolf the Shit Nosed Fuckface.”
If only Jack had been blessed with telepathy (a strain that seems to run deep in the Tennessee Abernathys, as Jack would soon find out) he would have, with precognitive hindsight, decided that Liz Cohen and long lingered for Christmas Pajama Parties were not worth it anyway, and that really how many city kids were lucky enough to get out of town at any time of the year and get a warm Christmas and get back just on time for New Year’s? But Jack was not a be-grateful-for-what-you-get type of kid, more the fuck-you-I’ll-take-your-bike-if-I-wanna kind of cherub.
So things took a turn for the worse on New Year’s Eve 1996 over the re-election of President William of Clinton…
“Fuck him Jack you hear me?! Givin’ a bad name to all us Bible Belters!” yelled Tom Irving from the back of his truck where he was sitting next to Billy Joe Abernathy, Jack’s might-be-inbred-might-just-be-stupid cousin.
“That’s right Jack, yall Yankees can’t read ‘em like we do…”
You mean you can read? Jack thought suppressing a smile.
“…but this one is bound to pull the whole Nay-sheun into scandal. You mark my word! And this is an Abernathy speaking!”
The other members of Reverend Billy Joe Abernathy’s Back of the Pick Up Truck Ministry of Baptist Retards nodded vigorously at that. Apparently missing a chromosome or two made you worthy of respect around these parts. Jack shrugged.
“The People have spoken. Twice.” He took a sip of his beer. “Including about half of the Belt so really…”
“You mark my words Yankee. His own state shunned him boy. That’s his peoples, that’s his families,” more vigorous nods, “you northerners musta got an early winter and brain freeze, but we here we know…”
Brain freeze? Brain freeze?! You’re your uncle’s son and you’re telling me about…
Jack must have had just one beer too many that night, he should have realized this was a: backing up the wall against a rabid mutt, now is time for subtle I’ll use my superior brain power to flip this script on you since you’ve got it all backwards anyway moment, but instead he said:
“Yeah just like you know which cow to fuck from a mile in the dark huh Preacher?”
Maybe he did if it came to that but it wouldn’t make a difference to Jack, because one thing Billy Joe knew was how to pitch a fast ball with a Coors light, and as it turns out Jacks’ forehead would have made a high class Catcher if the rules had only been more alcoholic oriented than the regular game already was.
When Jack woke up the next day with a three inch scar along his scalp, he realized he couldn’t remember a thing about the night before, but for some reason he had been miraculously spared another Eve at the Abernathy’s and if he had to have a scar under his hair for the rest of his life, well it was a valuable tradeoff.
Jack accepted that they had somehow got in a fight with the kids from Little Street, especially with Great Aunt Jill, claiming that “these rascals will burn in the Pit someday.” Well they would have all the leisure to continue their feud with Billy Joe and his crew once they did depending on who got there first. Jack took this as his cue to get home faster, and cherry on the cake (sorry Lizzy) was that the incident didn’t sit too well with Jack’s mother formerly Jennifer Abernathy now Jennifer McGrady, deciding that this would be their last trip visiting these “little southern thugs.” For Jack, Christmas had taken on a whole new meaning, and he could swear the North Star was shinning all the way back, but he laid that on the concussion instead. That and the nightmares, the grinning faces of his semi retarded cousin and his friends, that kept him half awake all the way back to the Apple.
What Jack didn’t know was that that one single incident would send him on a journey he had not planned for and could no longer trace back to any specific moment. Ignorance is bliss…
“…from Tennessee’s very own Matthew from Jericho. Matthew my man you’re on J.C Radio.”
“Hi there Joseph thanks for hostin’ such a great show by the way.”
“You’re welcome Matthew, you’re welcome, I’m grateful for my listeners y’all a treasure trove let me tell you. So what troubles you Matthew?”
“Well see Joseph it’s like this. I run my own business here in Jericho. Things have been goin’ fine, real fine His Name be Praised, but I’ve been lyin’ about my achievements, you know, to hook the fish so to speak…”
“And there’s something wrong with that? Sounds to me you’re running a healthy business says me!”
“Oh ain’t nothing wrong with it. But I had some new customers, you know folks from outta state and I think they’re on to me, so I was thinking, maybe since you be talkin’ to all these people maybe you’d know…”
“Say no more Matthew, I’ll put you on to my good friend John who called just a few minutes ago. He’s looking for a few good deeds to fill his tab.”
“Why thank you Joseph!”
“Don’t mention it Matthew, don’t mention it! Alright! Time for a little musical break we’ll be movin’ to another tune from the Man in Black hey this one is for you Matthew, Matthew 24 (Is Knocking at the Door)…we’ll be back right after, stay tuned to 101.1 FM, JC Radio! That’s right!”
Of course as it turned out Reverend Abernathy had been absolutely right, William of Clinton got his home town renamed Little Cock, much to the pleasure of millions of Americans and at least a good billion internationals who just couldn’t seem to get enough of the whole Headgate Scandal. But Jack no longer knew that, and since he would never see his cousins again, Inch’allah as his Bangladeshi friend Mohammed would say (Followed of course by: an inch of Allah? What are you saying there Mohammed? That went on until Mohammed had his share and savagely but respectfully kicked Caleb Sorensson all over the court yard). But since he would never see his cousins again whichever God you pray too, he would never find out what had truly happened even when he found himself helping a hitch hiker along the road on the fringes of Welcome, Thorn Ancorlina…
It was still the late hours of the night, or the wee hours of the morning, but Jack had to make it by 12pm sharp if he was to get a shot at the cheese. And visibility was high under the full moon. Jack had a start at that, it should definitely not have been full, or at least wasn’t when he had been approaching the state border, but what the Hell? Who cared? Just a s long as he had enough light to drive by and gas to make it until the morning he would be just fine.
It was a beautiful moon though, orangey red like he had rarely seen outside the movies a Blood Moon if he remembered correctly, half expecting to see Harry Potter riding a Centaur coming out of the woods. Wrong continent Jack, he thought.
Instead as the fabled deer in the flashlight, an extremely overweight and ugly man appeared a few feet ahead of his Camaro, turning Jack into a momentary Michael Schumacher.
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR COUNTRY ASS MIND…” he started at the fat man before realizing that he was dressed as a Pastor. A pastor who apparently hadn’t heard a word he was saying, or had, it was hard to tell because:
“Curse you son, curse you! I’ve been waiting here all night for someone to make it and we’re not ten miles from Welcome! But what do you know? Nada, and on Christmas Eve too, well I guess the folks would be busy what with the ceremony and all, huntin’ virgins and the like! What be your name son?”
Jack was a bit too shaken to answer just yet. For one he still wanted to strangle the tub of lard preacher may he be, and two what the fuck was he talking about? Huntin virgins? And he thought that was all in the Catholic church, what do you know…But the pastor just went on.
“Tongue tied are we boy? Well I can’t blame you none, you look exhausted and let’s face it I’m not the prettiest sight in the world…”
Got that right.
“…but it sure must be a special night to send a Samaritan my way. Wouldn’t you say Mr….?
“Mcgrady, Jack answered Jack Mcgrady.”
“You got New York on your voice young Jack Mcgrady! I hear them city folk be an awful lot, unmerciful and sssi-eunnnin’ just as we like ‘em! Care to give an ol’man a lift?”
Not that old. Certainly too fat to walk anywhere or worry about a car crashing into you at 110mph at that.
“Well I’m in a bit of hurry Reverend, so I won’t be making any detours, but I’ll be glad to drop you along my way if it helps.”
“Spoken like a true city boy if I’ve ever heard one. You are Hell sent young Jack Abernathy, Hell sent!”
“Excuse me what was that?”
“What was what son?”
“What you just called me what was that?”
“Why Jack young sinner! Young Jack Mcgrady! What on Earth would I call you?”
“Oh beg your pardon preacher, I had heard something else.”
“Well ain’t it just the night for it! My congregation is in Welcome. There’s no way around Welcome if you keep goin’ straight young Mcgrady. Come on get back in that Camaro of y’alls and let’s roll into the moonlight!”
Jack realized once they had been riding for a few minutes that he didn’t know the person sitting next to him’s name, he looked like a Pastor and had all the exuberant annoying gimmicks people called charisma, but for all he new the guy could be an axe murderer on the lose waiting for his Christmas Eve trophy. But if he thought for one second that he had a found a victim in Jack Mcgrady he was badly, badly mistaken, in fact if he knew exactly what he was up against he would never have gotten in the car in the first place. As if reading his mind, Pastor Fuckhead slapped him on the shoulder and said:
“Ha! ha! Don’t worry young heathen! I’m not gonna slice you up, feed your body to my ministry and drink your blood! Ha! Ha!”
Jack dusted his shoulder off.
“I hadn’t gotten that far.” He replied lighting a cigarette.
“Oh but I could see it in your look, not that you looked worried, anxious though ain’t that right?” the church man answered with a wink.
So Preacher man got skills huh?
“Then what are you still doin’ in the car?”
The man roared his head back in laughter, and extended a hand out to Jack.
“Reverend Wilford, Jack, Reverend Wilford. What am I doin in the car? Let me tell you son, in my line of work, you get to see many a kind of folk. Many a kind son, not two alike on the outside, but once you’ve heard about a thousand you start knowin who you dealin’ with, especially around these parts.”
I bet you do.
“So you got street smarts there Rev?”
“I got church smarts son. It pays off being everybody’s confident let me tell you. And you, you ain’t the type to go nuts. No Sir. Although you’d seize the opportunity for a little practice if it came your way. Ain’t that right?”
“You’re a willy old bastard Rev. Excuse my language, never been one for much formality, no offense padre.”
“None taken sonny, none taken.”
“But riddle me this: I got a loaded semi automatic under the dash board. A knife under each sleeve of my shirt, and believe it or not, a razor blade against the top of my mouth.”
Jack flashed his hand before his mouth holding the blade out and just as smoothly made it disappear again.
“Now knowing many a type as you do. Which one would I use on you? If I were in the mood for a little exercise?”
“Good question there young sinner. Good question. Now I knew about the knives I caught the outline when you opened the door to your car. The gun under the dashboard I had guessed by now, but that blade trick? I like that. Folks out here get kinda crude with this sort of thing. But to answer your question, you ain’t gonna use neither. And why? Cuz you never had a chance at a conversation like this, and you’ve been dyin for one. Haven’t you son?”
Jack barked a laugh. The fat son of a bitch was right. Ten, well eleven years really, but only ten Christmas’s, if you counted and Jack was startin to feel…lonely. Not that he wanted to go around babbling about his business, but it would be nice to share a hobby with somebody every once in a while.
“Right on the dot rev, right on the dot, well if you care to hear my story, you might get more than you bargained for…”
“Ain’t nothing like a good gamble New York. Please treat me. I got the feelin I ain’t heard your kinda tale yet.”
Jack stared out the window as they passed a church bearing what he had thought was a cross from a distance, but turned to be what looked like a lynching.
He looked from the church to the Pastor, the man winked back at him. Jack shook his head.
Jesus, sure hate their niggers out here. Padre might get an earful but if that’s the kind of people he’s around…Well it’s back in the Belt for Christmas after all. Fuck…
Blood doesn’t wash away easily. Not in the metaphorical sense. When it came to that two tears in a bucket as far as Jack was concerned, but it was a whole other story when it came to his shirt, and pants…and shoes, but it was the little items that annoyed him, his Gucci tie for one, or his Kangol winter hat. You really shouldn’t kick a corpse after you had just killed it, that was just wrong, but eighty bucks down the arterial drain…it was all the struggling that did it, but where’s the fun otherwise? Although fun was not the right word. It wasn’t exactly entertainment for Jack Mcgrady, na, it was release, satisfaction, and the bullshit sounding, yet truly heart felt belief that he was doing both society, and whoever the fuck, a favor…
Most of the time it was only one, one and he would be able to get some sleep and enjoy the holiday season, but when the flashes would stab through his brain all day, making it impossible to concentrate on anything even as simple as making a cheese sandwich there had been more.
It is a tribute to Jack’s moral standing that in spite of the pain, and almost losing the ability to see on the worst days that he still kept his candidates within the target group he had selected to be relieved from their misery.
Jack was not a psychopath after all, he was a man on a mission, with a purpose that some may criticize, but so is euthanasia, and jack was all for euthanasia. Euthanasia, preemptive strikes, military coups, and generally any forceful intervention that would remove a son of a bitch before it was your ass he removed. Better him than me, especially him, and in this particular case them and although it wasn’t a clear case of him and me or them and me, it was nonetheless a burden someone had to take on. That it carried the added benefit of relieving the pain in his skull was not important. That’s what really sick people tell you: “I did it cuz I had too. You don’t understand. It was stronger than me.” Or in the worse scenarios “A dog was telling me to do it.” No that was for psychos. Yes it did hurt a little every now and then, but wasn’t it just better for everybody after Jack had gotten the job done? Plus most psychopaths and/or serial killers want to get caught, and jack was not one of those…
NY Times article,
December 24th 1997
John Dowd 3rd
The nightmare before Christmas
Tim Burton couldn’t have cooked up a more twisted story line than this one. This morning the parents of Marsha Donovan, Queens, Maricela Arroyo, Manhattan, Justin Chu, Queens, and Bernardo Gucelli in the Bronx, are praying for a Christmas miracle, a real wink from God to right the underserved slaughter of their children. And most of us after reading this article, along with the NYPD officers and neighbors who have seen the corpses of the young down-syndromed children, will be praying for clumsy skeletons, headless horsemen, anything, anything rather than this. Truth is not only stranger than fiction it is also more horrifying and implacable.
The bodies of three of the four children were recovered in the night by friends and neighbors, Bernardo Gucelli’s body was found by the local cleaning crew in the project building’s trash, their throats and faces lacerated.
Both Marsha and Maricela, respectively 16 and 14 were in there teens, but Justin and Bernardo were both much younger, respectively 7 and 9.
The bodies were recovered without trace of any sexual assault, but the police has concluded that this was the work of one man. All four victims were killed in the same manner: a quiet slash to the throat sometime on December 23rd between the hours of 4 and 9pm.
The broad area covered by the killer, three Burroughs, makes him harder to apprehend, and leaves clues much more spread out, but besides the common manner of the killings, all four of the victims were showing various degrees of mental retardation.
Justin Chu disappeared from the playground during a moment of his parents’ lapse of attention.
Bernardo Gucelli was on his way back from school, only a few blocks away and never made it home.
Similar stories follow Marsha and Maricela also both returning home after spending some time with friends on that chilly afternoon.
This is the worse killing spree New York City has witnessed since Heriberto Seda, better known as the Zodiac Killer, was arrested in June of 2006. It has been a little over a year. Even Seda had not resorted to killing children.
The police are certain they will apprehend the killer, but they also fear they are dealing with a copy-cat after Seda, possibly one using Christmas as his landmark, although no letter was sent to NYPD claiming responsibility for the murders.
It has been a sad year for our City, New York.
New Yorkers wherever you are please share a thought tonight before you bless your food for Marsha, Maricela, Justin, and Bernardo. Light a candle, and tuck your children in tight.
Jack didn’t even look back at the fat sweaty man of god, he let go of the wheel long enough to light himself a cigarette, blew out the smoke and handed the pack to Reverend Wilford who gladly took it lit himself a smoke, and blew it out slowly, clearly enjoying the moment.
“And that was ten years ago?” he didn’t look shocked or concerned in the least possible way. Old man did really see his share huh? “We’ve got the makings of a legend here says me.”
“You don’t fuckin’ say.” Jack replied clearly not giving a shit either. If the old man proved trouble he would get an early Christmas, but Jack didn’t want to have to kill anybody he wasn’t…compelled too. But if the preacher proved trouble he’d have to do what he’d have to do. He didn’t think he would have to though. The man might be fat and annoyingly loud, but he seemed about as solid as Jack had ever met a man.
“The Moron Massacres!” Reverend Wilford roared as he threw his head back in riotous laughter. “The Crippled Killings!” “Oh my oh my I knew this was goan be good!”
Wilford caught Jack’s raised eyebrow in the rearview mirror.
“Just havin a laugh there young killer! Enjoy a few giggles with an old man on Christmas why don’t you?”
They were approaching Welcome, and Jack caught a glimpse of the board greeting him into the mud town: “Welcome to Welcome: “A fiendly place”
He burst out laughing.
Still can’t spell worth a shit.
“See youngin’ I knew you had it in you.” Wilford added slapping Jack on the shoulder.
“Keep your hands off me Preach’ we ain’t that cool yet.”
“Cold Yankee blood is what it is.”
“Call it what you will just keep your southern hospitality to yourself.”
“Hoowee! Will do young blood, will do Jack Mcgrady of New York. Ain’t there more you wanna share though?”
Jack peered in the rearview, and caught another sight of that lynching symbol on the board. Had he just not noticed them before? It had been a minute since he had cruised down the Ol’Belt, but stuff like this makes the papers nation wide no way around it. Racism just wasn’t in these days, not anymore, and Jack was no racist. No sir, been raised better than that. Most people were assholes, no matter what color they were, so who gave a shit? Black, white, brown or red, as long you weren’t a dickhead. Which Reverend Wilford from Welcome, North Carolina might yet prove to be.
And one shot, two shots, three shots, four, there goes Jack’s sanity out the door. Well not quite, it took a hell of a lot to send Jack Mcgrady over the ledge and barfing, but Reverend Wilford’s home made brew did make Jack feel welcome.
Welcome to Welcome what a bunch of morons.
“Rowdy yet young Jack? How ‘bout another swig at the ol’demon to uplift the soul! Amen!”
“You’re pretty cool rev, but I gotta get rollin’, you don’t want me around much longer anyway trust me.”
“Oh I trust none but one young Jack as you will soon find out uhhuh, you will soon find out…”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That when the time comes we all turn to him, yes we do and so will you. Statistics you understand, or miss firing synapses they say, but who cares to listen to what they say anyway?! Ain’t that right pal’o mine?”
“Whatever Rev, keep looking for light in that moonshine, I’m takin’a hike.”
“Oh it ain’t the light that…”
Reverend Wilford was interrupted by the church door squeaking open in the middle of the night.
“Well I’ll be blessed! Little Lizie Cohen! You done come around of your Hebrew ways have you? Is you Born Again on this upcoming Christ Mass? Or you just come to polish that ol’knob of mine as usual?”
“Shut up Wilford.” She turned to Jack “Who the fuck you lookin at?”
Jack couldn’t move. He was transfixed. His eyes darted back and forth between her face and her bosom, quickly doing the math, adding the years up. Jack didn’t believe in coincidences, he believed in karma, what goes around comes around, spin the bottle and what not.
“Say Reverend, is your boy here stupid, or is he heated I interrupted you’re little gay get together?”
The voice was rougher, as if a decade or so of smoking had scrapped at the smooth staccato of her voice. Her frame was skinnier too, and her eyes held the hallow look of the fiend in need. A fiend in need is a fiend indeed, but so it is true of friends.
“Lizie? Lizie Cohen? Rudolf Steiner? New York City? Jack Mcgrady?”
He couldn’t have made a coherent sentence had he been sober. Liz Cohen, Pajama Party fantasy honey #1, and where? Why in the most likely place for a NYC Jew: three notches down the Belt.
Liz turned her blank stare at him. Jack might go down in History as the most cowardly serial killer in human memory, but at least he wouldn’t leave a skid mark in Liz Cohen’s. Or what was left of her. People go through different phases in life, become different people, and whoever she was, she was not Liz Cohen little Prom Queen in the making anymore she was…
“You gonna stare at me longer or you gonna put some money on my rock if I put my mouth on your cock?”
Jack could have thrown up. Reverend Wilford sat back in the confessional and pulled his pants down.
“Straight to the point, just how I like ‘em! Help yourself to the collection plate little Lizzie, or you can go to heaven!”
Jack watched his junior high fantasy follow the obese phony into the confessional, and drop on her knees, her now skinny, doped out butt sticking out of the door. Jack could see the track mark along her thighs. Rock, and cock were only two of Liz’s problems…
“Don’t just stare New York! She’s the hottest piece of meat this side of the Continental Divide! Climb on behind! She won’t mind! Won’t you now little Christ Killer?” he said patting her head.
Jack ran out of the church, tripping the Holy Water over, followed by Reverend Wilford’s voice.
“You done spilled God’s urine sample Mcgrady! Man is he goan’ be pissed!”
Jack threw up the pastor’s vile brew on the porch, he didn’t stop running until he was in car, and didn’t stop throwin’ up until he was on the road. When he turned around, Welcome was shrouded in a thick, black fog…
“…Matthew twenty-four is knocking at the door, and a day or one more could be the last.”
“Welcome back Sinners! 101.1 FM J.C Radio, and merry merry Christmas Eve! And Mary, Oh Mary. Hold your son to your bosom and hug him tight. We ‘re taking on question #4 my girl Rachida from Tyre! Anna how can old peckerwood as yours truly be of mindful assistance?”
“Merry Christmas Eve Joseph, and Curse you, curse you all to Hell!”
“Thank you Anna much curses to you and yours, but hold on a second there Anna. You are a virgin aren’t you Anna?”
“Why of course Joseph!”
“Well not for much longer Anna, not after you’ve heard this. Ladies and gentlemen, Maria Magdalena from Nazareth is among us but her top is not! Let me see those breasts a little closer Maria while I put Anna on hold, it ain’t over til its over yall, but its over when I’m done and lookin at Maria here it ain’t goan take long! Say Howdie to our audience Maria!”
“That’s right yall that’s right, howdie is about to get rowdie! Stay tuned for more merriness at 101.1 FM! Now get your ass over here Maria…”
Jack turned off the radio. It was about as much as he could take for two days. And where the fuck was he?
Tennessee, Tennessee. Arrested Development must be the dumbest brothers in history…
Jack had never been so happy to cross the Southern Apalaches. There were no famous songs about North Carolina that he could remember, and good reason for that too. That any man should be happy to drive into Tennessee and still have to cross the entire state was enough for him to double back and go, but greed was a bitch. Especially when you’re broke, and when at any given time, no matter how careful you’d been, someone could come knockin at your door on to search your appartment. And that was about the time Jack planned to move into the house he had been building in the Pampas. Argentina harbored Nazis for cryin’ out loud…
But for that cash was of the essence and Wall Street had been an evil step mom to yours truly of late. He should have left earlier, to Mexico or something, someplace the police was nice and shitty, or Papua New Guinea where they were already so busy killing each other he would go virtually unnoticed, if they didn’t kill him first. Fair game really as with all things in Love and War or whatever, the point was that when the going got tough, whenever that was, Jack would get going. But first things first: crisp, straight out the bank, unmarked, Washingtons, Lincolns, Hamiltons and Jacksons.
“…Now get your ass over here Maria.”
“WHAT THE FUCK!”
Jack punched into the radio until the machine, his dashboard; fist and silk linen were bloody. The letter hadn’t mentioned anything about pristine clothing on this more fucked up than usual Christmas Eve.
Route 40 stretched on for what felt like days to Jack. Despite his efforts, his new age mantra and mind training exercises from back when he had thought they would make a difference to his yearly migraines, jack couldn’t remove the image of pure sweet virginal Elizabeth blowing that fat slob of a preacher.
Route 40 stretched on for what felt like days, and the only company he could find despite switching the buttons, changing the frequency and turning it off when he could do no better, was Joseph Arimathea and his depraved faithfuls. Sluts was the proper term but it seemed to be a popular trend. Who was he to judge? Hell he had slaughtered quite a few of the innocent himself in his day, and would slaughter a few more before his time was done. Maybe he wouldn’t actually, once the damn headaches stopped beating him, the world and his sanity, to shit right around the time everyone else seemed to have not a care in the world…
Actually come to think of it, his head was surprisingly clear, Crackhead Cohen aside. Usually by this early in the day on Christmas Eve he should be popping ibuprofen by the dozen, if not cleaning left over stains from his tux before heading to his parent’s house for dinner. By now he should be stark raving mad, half blind unable to focus on anything except not crashing his Camaro into one of his potential victims (he had tried once, it didn’t help, only managed to get him locked up and his finger prints and DNA checked across every precinct in the city. Good thing it had been December 22nd, he still had time enough to get his job done then, plus the cops wouldn’t suspect him once he had checked out. Who is stupid enough to go out and kill someone after almost getting caught? Besides the lucky killer that gets away of course…). By now Jack should have his fist firmly planted into someone’s face, or his hand slicing into someone’s throat rather than obsessing over Liz Cohen again less than an hour from Memphis TN at 10:30 am. He had plenty of time. Plenty of time to make it, cop that cash, let the headache surge and soar, and relieve the world and a poor soul from its misery. His or her misery and his own mind blinding, skull numbing pain…
The closer he got to Memphis the more churches he saw. The more churches and the more little lynchings. It had to be a lynching. What else could it be? Especially around these parts. The parts where they don’t take kindly of your kind ‘round here. What else could a skinny man hanging from a tree be? What the fuck would it be doing on a church? And why are all these deep fried southern brothers and sisters doing walking into the churches anyway? Does it take a burning cross these days? If the reverend pulled out a white conical mask would they figure its about time to pack shit and run? Or would Jack have to relieve them of a few of the more unfortunate among their congregation for them to finally get a hint? Everybody would win that way though. New York would deal with a new exodus, white people would have to flee even further north, but that’s just what Canada was for anyway, they’d have all the space they need…
Cuz I’m ridin in Memphis! Ridin in Memphis! Ridin with my fist all fucked up not feelin’! Ridin in Memphis…
Jack pulled up at Abe and Irv’s legal office at 11:27 am. Parked his car whistling Marc Cohn’s song, feeling surprisingly light on his feet, his body surprisingly strong in spite of having driven for almost two days straight with only the occasional bathroom break and having drank and puked Wilford’s liquor. He pushed the door.
“Welcome to Abe and Irv’s Legal Study! How may I help you?”
The hostess smiled hungrily at Jack to the point where he felt his balls start to swell. Her honey colored blond curly hair could have belonged on any of the Ingals daughters, and her boobs on any Pam or Anna. He didn’t answer immediately fixated as he was on her cleavage.
“You must be Jack Mcgrady.” She went on smiling.
“Huh..Yeah, yeah, absolutely that’ll be me, the guy staring at your breasts.” He said with his most winning smile.
“Well they need a lot more than just staring at Mr. Mcgrady, but I’m on business hours. Proceed to the end of the hallway. You’re expected. And not a moment too late.”
“Wouldn’t want me to be late!” jack replied energized.
The secretary stopped smiling. The expression on her face all seriousness, and her eyes suddenly sharp and penetrating.
“No.” she said “No. We wouldn’t”
Jack took at his cue and started down the hall.
When Jack finally walked up to the door he paused, turned around and looked back down the hallway at the hostess. She was looking at her nails, filling them, completely un-preoccupied, not seeming to notice he was still there or that she even cared, yet…
He shook his head. He had been imaging things. Obviuosly why would her hungry stare turn from eager to famished for no apparent reason? Why would she all of a sudden look at Jack less like he was a man as much as he was meat. Women have a way of doing that, maing a man think twice about tryin to bang ‘em. That weighing look that says: “You sure you can handle this kiddo?” In the end its always worth a shot anyway and…
… Tripping, yeah tripping is what he was doing, and what would be more natural after all the little quirks of the past couple of days? Weird shit had happened, small wonder now that he was flowin down the artery into the heartland of AmeriKKKa’s ass. He turned to face the heavy wooden door, decorated with a gold plated plaque that read the same names as on the building and the letter he had received a century of hours before: “Abe & Irv” in bold gothic letters. Damn lawyers, was the display supposed to be awe inspiring? Their business couldn’t be that bad with the country bumpkins they dealt with this deep. But that was just lawyers for you, reminding you at every turn that they were in charge; that your life depended on their good will, and your pay check and its own limitations.
No one answered the door when he knocked. He turned back down the hallway but Honey Dew was still all filling, business hours or not. After no one answered the second knock he turned his wrist to look at his watch. Small specks of blood still obscured part of the screen. He spit on it, and wiped it clean on his shirt. The numbers read: 11:58:39. He pushed the door open and walked into the office.
A chair was pulled in front of the desk for him to sit on, but his host’s own chair was turned from him, looking out the window like Dr Claw, Jack could have sworn he heard a cat purring, unless it was the secretary out there…
“So, which one are you?” he started. “Cain or Abel? Elvis or Costello?”
The church across the street from the building started ringing noon, and the chair spun slowly around counter clockwise…
When he finally caught a glimpse of the man facing him, one thousand needles dug into Jack’s cerebral cortex, popping out tiny heads opening into spinning blades. He grabbed his skull in both hands unable to comprehend anything, unable to hear clearly anything except the echoing bells of the church over the flatline like ultrasound that precedes aneurisms. But Jack was not having a stroke, far from it…
“Well well well, it looks like the prodigal son done come home after all. What you been up to Jack? Too high and mighty to come down and visit your old cousin Billy?”
Jack tried to look up, but as he did the spinning blades shredding whatever was left of his brain to strawberry milkshake turned warm. Turned warm then hot, and from hot to burning, turning the milkshake into Bolognese sauce.
“Damn, you look like you’re in a tight spot there cousin. It must be Him, it must be, after all these years ignoring your families. All these years without a holler. Yu didn’t think he would overlook you coming down here with nothing but money on your mind didjya?
When Jack finally found the strength to lift his head against the quicksand and through the lava all he could see were dancing grinning faces of Billy Joe Abernathy, ten years in the future, his slightly retarded features distorted by the hallow of pain. He tried to lunge forward and grab him by the neck, but only managed to fall pathetically off his chair, rolling himself into a ball on the floor certain his ears and eyeballs were oozing blood and pus.
“Wow Jack! I’m flattered, yes I am! You can’t be that happy to see me are you? After all these years the love is so thick I could slice it right through the throat.”
Jack wanted to unclench his teeth to say something, to say anything, but keeping his mouth shut was the only thing that kept the pain from stopping his heart, and somewhere in the back of what was left of his mind he knew it was also the only thing that kept him from biting his tongue off. Billy Joe walked around the table, and laid a hand on jack’s shoulder. The pain faded. Gone. All that was left was the physical exhaustion, the relief that left him panting unable to solidify his muscles back into flesh from jello.
“See what the hand of an Abernathy can do Jack? Say hallelujah! Say Amen and praise below!”
Billy Joe walked back around the desk to his chair as jack lifted himself painfully onto his chair.
“Now look here Jackie boy.” His cousin went on as if blind to his kin’s misery. “I know you came for the prize. Heaven! You hated my mother ‘bout as much as everybody else ‘round here, didn’t you?”
Jack tried to speak.
“Exactly, Billy Joe went on, well good news is, there is a prize waiting for you. Why Mama Jill picked you out of all the spawn of this bloodline beats the crap outta me, but she had one condition, one last one, she said the prize was yours if you could make it before twelve, that the prize was yours if you could make it to Midnight Mass tonight.” He leaned over, and yanked Jack’s chain and cross from under his shirt. “You might wanna be wearing this cousin, you don’t wanna get the wronmg kind of attention. Now scoot I’ll see you at the church on Little Street where we used to kick it back in the day. Irv’ll be there too, remember Thomas?” billy Joe’s grin turned fiendish. “I’m sure he’ll be glad to see you.” He stared at him straight. “We all will.”
Jack crept out of the office without pausing to shut the door. He walked by the secretary who didn’t spare him a glance, but once he was on the street, all eyes seemed to turn to him and follow him when he wasn’t looking, maybe he was really dripping blood….
By the timwe he reached the Doubletree Hotel, only a few minutes ride from Abe and Irv’s Jack was too numb to reach into his trunk and pull out the little he had taken along with him in case of anything. A towel, tooth brush, a couple of pairs of undies cuz you just never know, and a fresh white shirt in case on of his moods took him and he had to trade clothing for something less crimson…
He barely found the strength to push the revolving door open and let himself slump against the counter.
“Hi, I’d like a room the name is Sa…”
“No worries Mr McGrady, Billy Joe Abernathy just called, said you should be rolling in any minute.”
“The heaven if I know. He just called said you looked a bit under the weather when you left his office, figured you wouldn’t make it any further than here no way no how.”
Jack couldn’t find the strength to argue, all he could think off was a shower if he didn’t pass out on the floor first thing after he walked into whatever room was his. His head didn’t hurt anymore, but it felt like his brain was shivering inside his skull.
“Keys?” he said opening his palm.
“Sure thing, you’re on the sixth floor, room 66 like the route. Like AC/DC Mr Mcgrady?”
“I’m a Guns n’Roses man huh”, he looked at the name tag “Stanislas.”
“Well it won’t make a difference to the room let me tell you.” He replied.
His eyes locked on the small cross dangling around Jack’s neck. It was an old piece of shit, worth less than the metal it had been carved in, and the only reason he wore it was cuz his mother had been so damn insistent on him trying, just trying, to show a little faith and good will around Christmas…The man’s eyes went hollow.
“Nice cross.” He said.
“You want it?”
“Not for my soul no.”
Jack snatched the keys out of Stan’s hands and made his way to the elevator.
He woke up in pitch dark, his head jolting up at the sound of the church bells ringing eleven. He looked at the alarm clock to check the time. 10:59. He shook his head trying to gather his senses as he walked to the shower to freshen up before acting the last and final scene of this masquerade, banking up, and riding the fuck up North, and never, never ever, setting foot anywhere south of D.C ever again. He could recall the events of the afternoon, his cousin’s words, the pain itself was a distant memory by now, but strangely enough so was his cousin’s face. He could recall everything else, but Billy J’s face was blurry, and the harder he tried to remember, the hazier it got, until Jack gave up on the ugly son of a bitch, washed up and left the hotel room.
Stanislas was nowhere to be found, and the lobby was empty, so were the streets, and the lights in every building were out, but Jack was too busy again focusing on the financial outcome of this road trip gone bonkers to look or care. He turned on the ignition, put pedal to the metal and headed for the oldsmall church on little street.
Little Street was as empty as the rest of the town. Empty and dark, just like jack liked a street around this time of year. He pulled over by the old white building, the paint flaking off its wooden panels. He pushed the door open, paying no mind to the tree that must have been there his entire life and that he had been too stupid to pay any mind to as a kid. The door opened up onto more darkness, and Jack stepped in…
The room lit up with a thousand candles as his right foot passed the porch, and the door slammed behind him. Benches stretched ahead and behind him as far as the eye could see. It looked as if the entire town was there, except Memphis couldn´t possibly have that many people. Loud merriness filling the air with carols, chatting, laughter and crying babies. Somewhere to Jack’s left a woman sneezed. A few feet behind him someone farted, followed by a couple of giggling boys right next to him turning around o see the perpetrator. Jack was about to join in when a strong grip stuck to his hand and spun him around.
“Well I’ll de blessed! Billy wasn’t lyin’ when he said you done come round jack! Let me see that head of yours. Wow that’s still a nasty scar! Been carryin Memphis all around with you huh? A big ol sign sayin “Stay the Fuck out” haha! Come this way Mcgrady you’re the guest of honor.”
Jack would have wanted to pull back, but Thomas Irving had a good 250 pounds around his 6’5 frame. Jack was a big guy, but Irv had been a linebacker since a boy and even if he had tried the other man wouldn’t even have felt the tug.
“Where’s Billy?” he asked looking around at the riotous crowd around him all chaos and anarchy waiting for the moment the Pastor stepped on stage.
“Your cousin? Oh he remembers all too well how you reacted to him earlier on, he don’t wanna spoil your fun jack. That’s family for you, ain’t that something?”
Sure is. Jack thought The brain and the brawn.
Was that how Abe and Irv ran their business? One of them bullying the Jury while the other sweet talked them into clearing the incestuous pedophile? He was shoved onto a bench before he had time to find out.
“Just in time Jack. Reverend Jo’ll be here any minute now.”
Jack turned his eyes to the altar up on a stage, a leg appeared from behind a curtain and the church went silent.
The face meant nothing to Jack as he turned around to scan the ecstatic faces of the audience. He saw a woman at the far end of his bench fondling her breasts with her right hand, her left disappearing conspicuously under her neighbor’s dress, Jack wanted to stare a while longer but the man on stage, dressed in all black like the homies started speaking. The face meant nothing to Jack but he would recognize that voice among millions.
“WEEEEEELLLCCOOOOOOOOOMMMEEEEE FAithfuls! Yeah!”
Joseph Arimathea spun on himself landing one knee on stage. The audience went berserk, jumping up and down screaming at the top of their lungs, even Tom was up dragging jack by the shoulder to join the pandemonium.
“OOweee do we got a hot audience tonight! Are you hot, or are you not my lambs?!”
“We’re hot Joseph!” screamed a man from so far back down the never ending rows of benches that his voice should have never carried so far.
“Positively dripping Joseph!” the woman with the hand under her skirt yelled.
“I bet you are Anna! What’d I tell you, oh Maria oh Maria!”
“I’m so wet I could melt Joseph!” Anna went on oblivious to the rest of the congregation her eyes fixated on the short squat man on stage, her hand rubbing ever more furiously against her crotch.
“Wow wow e’Zeeeeeeee there Anna, save a little something for later, I can see a whole lot a folks who want a piece, ain’t that right yall?!”
“You damn right Joseph!” someone hollered.
“I’ll be damned if I damn! HAHA!”
The joke was lost on jack, but the rest of the church roared in laughter. Joseph Arimathea started jumping up and down the stage pointing at random people.
“Damn you! Damn you! And damn you!, and you…DAMN! Are you ugly! You must be blessed!”
The crowd only roared louder.
“I got a little song for you tonight, a little something for Memphis, on this eve of merriness say Amen!”
“Say Praise below!”
“And now chill!”
The crowd went still.
“HAHA! That’s right my lambs, that’s right my sheep! Get on wit it! Wooo!”
The curtain dropped revealing a band complete with horns, bass, drums and an organ.
Joseph Arimathea tore his shirt open, revealing a sunken pock marked chest. The bass player started thundering on his strings driving the electric audience into a mad frenzy.
“Everybody raise your cups for my man on the bass, Bernardo Gucelli!
The fever rose a pitch, hands started clapping far in the back rolling past Jack all the way to the stage, when the first row start clapping Joseph let himself fall back, started convulsing and jumped back on his feet.
A woman near Jack fainted.
¨Bring on the drums!”
The drummer bet his sticks to catch up with the bass.
¨Yeah you go Justin!¨
Tom Irving threw his hat in the air.
¨Yeah you beat ‘em Justin! That’s right! Beat ‘em! It’s a sooooouuuulllll stew!¨
Jack felt his own feet stomp the floor unable to control them. He didn’t want to join the audience, there was something wrong about this mindless devotion, this unbridled laissez allez, but Jack couldn’t help himself, he started shaking his hips. Joseph did a hand stand and back.
¨Are we havin´ a Memphis Soul Stew yall!¨
¨I can’t hear yall.! Say HELL!”
¨Say HELL YEAH!”
The band and the crowd froze in mid motion. Jack was stuck in mid funky chicken.
¨This ain´t no soul stew! ¨ Joseph scolded the crowd. ¨We can’t have a Memphis Soul Stew without some Memphis horns.¨ he crooned, sounding all the world like King Curtis. ¨Horn ‘em like they holy! HORNS! ¨
The saxophone came to life, adding a thick layer of groove to the mad rhythm. Jack was gone by then, there was no controlling his arms his legs, he jumped backwards up on the bench in a mad Tom Cruise mimic.
Anna on the far side was half naked tonguing her neighbor down, he thought he saw his cousin Billy, epileptic, but altogether he didn’t give a fuck, he grabbed the obese black woman next to him, licked her face and pushed her of the bench.
Arimathea´s voice was the drone in the back, the background music that carried them all forward, faster.
¨Come yall this ain´t soup….¨
The organ sprinkled the rest of the band, growing in thickness, building up the intensity like The Doors used to. Jack threw his head back.
The crowd yelled back at him.
¨….. this is STEW! Drown ‘em! Don’t choke on it! Don’t choke yall! Don’t choke! Yeah !¨
The instruments were funkin´, jazzin’ in that insane dis-coordinated way that only Jazz makes sense of in the end. Frank Mcgrady was a big jazz fan, always claimed to be the biggest, his mother not, she had never seen the same wonder that jack had found in the dissonant squeaks as a baby, nor had she shared the same worship of his father that he had…
¨Stomp the floor! Stomp the floor! Stomp the floor!¨
The wooden planks started cracking underneath their feet, a mix of paint and wooden flecks falling on the crowd from the ceiling like ash sticking to their sweaty hair. Jack wiped his face with his hand only to add more dust. A few people started coughing but up on stage Joseph and the band played and moved faster and faster, Jack wasn’t sure but he would have sworn the bass player’s finger bled.
¨…Get lean yall! We’re getting lean! Get lean now, get lean! And stop!¨
The bass player fell flat on the ground.
¨ Was that a Memphis Soul Stew?! His voice echoing through the silent mile long church.
Joseph shook his head.
¨Naw, naw that wasn’t no Soul Stew…¨
¨What do we need Joseph?¨
¨Yeah Joseph what do we need, somebody go fetch the missing ingredients!¨
Jack was looking around as anxious as everybody else to find whatever it was MC Joseph needed to get the recipe right. Starting with a new bass player. That a dead man was just laying there on stage on Christmas… cuz it must be passed twelve by now…Jack looked at his watch, he had shaken it too hard dancing, the arrows were spinning fast backwards counter clockwise….
¨We need a Soul.¨ Joseph dropped.
The rumor around the room faded, many shaking their heads disbelieving. A voice rose sounding all like Joseph Arimathea, Awesome Abbot of the Apocalypse, Burning Bush of the Boondocks had just shit right out his mouth.
¨There ain’t a soul among us Joseph.¨
¨Nonsense! I can smell a soul!¨
¨Maybe you got a soul Joseph!¨ The voice all sarcasm now.
¨Maybe I do!¨ He sneered at the people below him. ¨What say you?¨
The audience backed away from where the voice was coming.
¨No, no Joseph you’d have the last soul among us.¨
¨Burn you all!!¨ Joseph yelled at them “I could have any soul I want. And we got a special soul tonight. Not two like it in the free world! In the Axis of Good we eat Soul Food! Put your noses up and smell the sweet thorns!¨
Jack was still dizzy from the exhaustion, but he saw the people around him turning slowly towards him, he could sense all the eyes in the church shift towards him, he looked up and not quite met Joseph Arimathea’s eyes. They were shining, and looking straight at his cross. Jack looked gave a quick glance around. He couldn’t see it on everybody, but there was still a little forest of hangmen around him.
¨Jack Mcgrady!¨ he clamored over the crowd, ¨Jack Abernathy Mcgrady from New York City. Cuz it’s as Jack Abernathy that you come to us tonight. Are you even sure you’re a Mcgrady, Mcgrady?¨
Jack wasn’t so sure when it came to that, but that was none of Joe’s business.
¨Just cuz you know you came from two Arimathea’s don’t make us a team Joey.¨
Arimathea’s laugh was both self mocking and truly amused.
¨Oh he got you there Joseph!¨
¨I told you he had Soul! Come on up here Jack, its time to collect.” He said wringing his hands his eyes glued to Jack’s Crucifix. It was well like Aunt Jill to put him through hell again, one last time for old time’s sake, the fuckin ghost of Christmas past and not a minute too late, as long as this little party wasn’t on his end of the money.
Jack let his head drop and breathed in deep.
¨Right there with you Joseph. Get your valet to start my car.¨
¨You’ll be on your way in no time Jack, come on up and bless this congregation on Christmas with yalls true!¨
It took Jack what felt like hours to reach the stage. A few seconds before he had thought himself only a few yards from the stage, twenty feet at best, but the further ahead he walked the further back the stage moved. By the time he stepped on the rotten planks the church had extended further than he could see, a small breeze blew through a crack in the walls and whistled through the alleys, the only sound to be heard for minutes. When it exited the church through some other crack somewhere all Jack could hear was his own heavy breathing.
Joseph Arimathea stood there grinning at him, his black sun glasses resting on his gleaming skull, eyes cold and serious.
¨So where do I sign DJ so I can get the hell on.¨
¨You gone get the hell on Jack Aby, you goan be gone, but we can’t work without the law on this side of damnation can we now_¨
¨You talk too much J but sometimes you make sense. Somebody fetch my cousin so we can call it day.¨
¨Billy Joe Abernathy_ Oh he’ll be with us shortly Jack, he’s answering to a higher summons right now.¨
¨A higher summons huh_¨ Jack said, his head half way down a slight smirk on his face.
¨Yeah! From Be ‘low!¨ Joseph bellowed.
¨Whatever, Joseph, look I appreciate the intent and all its been a hell of a Christmas, but I don’t wanna have to be here anymore than it takes to put pen to whatever paper you got ready, divvy up and split.¨
¨How little love you got Jack! How little appreciation! Show something for the one who remembers you from the grave.¨
¨Yeah! You tell him Joseph!¨
¨Cuz the grave forgives!¨
¨Amen!¨ screamed a skinny old lady on the front bench.
¨And the grave forgave!¨
¨Say glory!¨ she kept up.
¨¨But the grave can take back what it gave!¨
¨Yeah listen up Jack !¨
¨What you gonna give to the grave Jack?¨ Joseph asked, his voice all honey and slyness.
¨I’m gonna give it wave. A wave from the rear view Joseph. I let the grave to the grave Jo, whatever the fuck it gave.¨
¨So I hear Jack, so I hear.¨ Said Joseph, looking Jack straight in the eye for the first time. “Holier than thou or so would it seem say Amen but the truth of the Lord is in the cup Abernathy, Mcgrady who would be. The truth is in the cup would you care for a taste Jack? Would you indulge this audience before you bear the fruit from the grave?” Arimathea’s voice was all the milk and honey of both testaments. Jack looked into the chalice handed out to him. Deep ruby red. Deep ruby like a cherry jolly rancher, the kind that makes you bite at the last minute, the kind that makes you wanna bite. The candy that you keep eating when you’ve already had too much sugar, when you give into temptation because you wanna get a taste knowing the whole way that by morning all the candy would be gone. Jack was that kid again, Jack wanted candy. And why? Cuz who wouldn’t? Not you, not me, and certainly, certainly not Jack Mcgrady…
Jack put the chalice to his lips. The wine tasted thicker than any communal wine he ever had. As thick as blood. Thicker than water, and definitely, definitely, thicker than wine.
Jack had tasted a lot of blood. Never on purpose, never because he wanted to, but only because he couldn’t avoid the splatter. Murder was a messy business unfortunately, but in the end, ritual cannibalism was the ultimate symbol, the partaking in the blood of man, and jack had tasted the blood of woman and child alike, and he was nothing but a man. So he drank. Drank until the cup had made him dizzy. Drank until he…
…When he woke up, he was hangin from a skinny tree. Every head in the church bowed as far as he could see through his half open eyelids.
“Comfortable Jack? How do you like are accommodations?”
Jack was drowsy, his stomach cramped from the blood he couldn’t digest. He tried shaking his head to regain his senses, and turned his head as best he could towards the aeons of benches. As he moved the noose around his neck tightened, momentarily blocking the flow of oxygen to his brain. He couldn’t cough, choking, trying to struggle, but only makin his situation worse.
“What was that Jack?” Joseph asked, beaming concern and feigned interest.
Jack could have sworn his eyeballs were about to pop out and roll at the crowds feet. Their heads were bowed, but he knew that they were not missing a second of the show.
He was not getting any oxygen anymore. He knew it his chest felt about to burst, his lungs on the verge of collapse, but yet he still lived. He could still see and think clearly, but he couldn’t articulate anything.
“Oh how inconsiderate of me! You’re obviously not in a position to answer are you now Jack?”
The congregation’s silent worship turned into a deep humming, the basses carried and Jack could feel the small tree shaking, the vibrations tightening the already impossibly tight noose tighter.
“Now, in light of your past history and your, shall we say unfortunate circumstances Jack, a little clemency would be in order. But you’re a special case Mcgrady. It takes a really sick mind to turn a psychosis into a mission. Huh huh, a really really sick soul, wouldn’t you say Jack, if you could speak?”
The humming grew louder and more intense.
“What we offer you here Jack, is a chance at redemption, of sorts, a purge if I may.”
All the country antics, the flamboyant wise cracking was gone from his voice. Even his drawl was gone. Joseph Arimathea seemed to grow a few inches before Jack, his eyes meeting his. He moved his hands towards Jack’s neck and tore the crucifix off.
“Merry Christmas Jack! I would like to introduce you to someone. Cuz Chritmas wouldn’t be complete without Christ! He-sus! He-sus come forward….”
From the back of the church somewhere, suddenly clear to Jack’s eyes in spite of the distance, came a small wheel chair moving slowly up the alley, on it sat a little Mexican child, his head bowed down, slowly rising to look into jack’s eyes.
Jack’s brain went into instant overload, his body convulsing in an epileptic like frenzy that only added to the vise around his neck. Jesus, kept coming forward, his childish features so disfigured by down syndrome and inbreeding he hardly looked human at all.
The grating in Jack’s skull was at least as bad as the afternoon’s, so intense he feared he might get addicted to it, and maybe that was the point. He had never liked Hellraiser either one of the stupid series, but he remembered the transformation of the archeologist who had found the device that turned him into the cenobite Pinhead, Lord of Pain, an angel to some and a demon to others…tortured in the pits of hell to the point where pain became pleasure….
Jack wasn’t there yet, right then pain was just that, pain. Unqualifiable, unquantifiable pain. The look in Jesus’ doe eyes, radiating an innocence and purity that Jack wanted to extinguish, that Jack wanted to crush.
“Wassup Jack? Itching?” Joseph giggled.
Every eye in the church was now on jack, but the humming never stopped. The eyeballs turned inwards, only the whites showing floating over their gleaming trees. It wasn’t a lynching as jack had first thought.
“And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
Not a lynching at all, a suicide, a suicide for a deicide…Judas hanging from the tree…
He could hear Joseph’s voice but he couldn’t see him anymore, all the space in his mind in the gaps between the flares of torture occupied by Jesus’ eyes, by what might have passed for care, but Jack knew to be plain retardation.
“And He made man in his own image…”
Arimathea’s voice drifted towards him as Jesus seemed to concentrate on Jack’s face. He could feel his features stretching contracting in places.
The lights went out in the church, only the white eyeballs gleaming lighting up the trees around their necks. The darkness turned to glass, and the glass turned reflective…
Blood sprouted from Jack’s ears. The image of his face reflected into infinity by the mirrors around him. His face twisted into an image of Jesus’ own. Twisted, ugly, the image of all the faces he had caressed with his knife. The face of all the children and teenagers he had “relieved” of their misery. In a very remote way he knew he was still in the church, but he couldn’t see it. Al he could see was himself, and feel the buzzing from the humming crowd. Joseph Arimathea’s voice carried through the mist…
“Oh, Oh but here is the man we’ve all been waiting for.” Joseph said, over the growing tension that swirled around the never ending room. “Where you been Billy Joe?”
The mirrors disappeared, Jack looked up towards the back of the room, further than his eye could see, yet apparently much less further than the others could.
“I’ve been out and busy Joseph. “ William Joshua Abernathy’s monotone rippled throughout the room. “Busy and thoughtful.”
“I think its time for me to concede the stage.” Joseph Arimathea said without a hint of regret. “It’s time for Reverend Billy Joe to…”
“I’m not a reverend Joseph!” Jack’s cousin’s voice echoed within the walls.
“Then what are you William?” Joseph inquired.
“I’M A PREACHER, JOSEPH!” Billy yelled at him. “I SERMON; I PONTIFICATE!”
“Where da Pope at Billy?!” a voice clamored from somewhere.
“With your Mama!” Billy Joe Abernathy retorted.
“Na Billy, my mother be standing right by me Billy.”
“Then he’s with my mother!”
“And so were half of us!” The voice slurred back. “and so was her brother…”
Billy Joe, Jack’s long lost cousin suddenly appeared before the stage, and that was just the moment Jack chose to turn in his direction. He hadn’t though the agony could get any worse, but… The pain flared in his spine, growing towards his brain to the point that all his nervous terminals were on fire. The wine started bubbling back up towards his mouth.
“Wow how you feelin’ there cuz?!”
Jack let go a geyser of red out his mouth. He couldn’t move his body anymore, frozen in agony. His eyes were fixated on Billy Joe and his almost normal face, if not for that one trace that inevitably meant that…Suddenly, a can of Coors light was dangling between his hands.
“Ring a bell Jack?!”
His cousin’s voice sounded both near and far, both a whisper and a rant. Jack was so far gone within his own mind, trying to harness the onslaught, far stronger than anything he had ever experienced, that the weight of his kin’s unmistakable threat was lost on him.
“No?!” Billy’s voice rang mocking “NO?! Then hear the bells ring!”
The can flew from below him, and slammed right into his scar.
Jack woke up in a rush, just in time to see an obese man standing in the middle of the road. His car spun out of control. Jack didn’t have his seat belt fastened, he flew head first out through the window shield, directly towards a small tree on the other side of the ditch along the way. He saw the tree get closer, closer, and heard his neck snap as his head slammed into the trunk….
…His car spun out of control, but he managed to stop it just in time before he hit the man standing in the middle of the way.
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR COUNTRY ASS MIND…” he started at the fat man before déjà vu flashed through his mind. He looked up into the fat preacher’s grinning face…
“Curse you son, curse you! I’ve been waiting here all night for someone to make it and we’re not ten miles from Welcome! But what do you know? Nada, and on Christmas Eve too, well I guess the folks would be busy what with the ceremony and all, huntin’ virgins and the like! What be your name son?”